Global Commerce Photos

Where we will see the impact of a trade war first, in our ports

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The ongoing escalation of threats since March between the administrations of President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, have many economists and industries in the United States seriously concerned about a possible trade war.

This week, Trump’s administration suggested it might add an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports, on top of the $50 billion in of tariffs that were announced in March 2018. For its part, China had retaliated this week with proposed trade duties valued at $50 billion on U.S. products, including airplanes produced by Boeing and commodities like soy and pork. It threatened on April 6 to meet the latest Trump administration proposal with additional tariffs on $100 billion in U.S. imports.

Most of these goods pass through the United States’ main cargo ports, including the Port of Seattle. According to the port, it shipped 5.2 million metric tons of agricultural cargo in 2015. Primary products included soybeans, and China, along with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, are the port’s primary markets. The tariffs likely mean less ag exporting business at the port. The port also handles many consumer and finished products coming from China. It is not clear how American consumers will respond to higher prices.

Whatever happens, daily movement of global cargo at the port will not stop. Trade with China represents more than half of the port’s trade. In 2017, the port’s trade was valued at more than $26 billion. There is simply too much mutually dependent trade taking place to halt the flow of goods both ways. However, the percentages of exports and imports to and from China may fall, and businesses will feel the pinch throughout the supply chain. They simply may feel it first at the big West Coast ports like Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, and Long Beach.

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